You might be a little more than confused if you were driving down the road and saw its name was Zzyzx road. Is that a word? Well, it's not a real word but the road is real and it leads to a town just as bizarre as its name.
Zzyzx is located at the end of Zzyzx road, which is a 4.5-mile-long rural road off Interstate 15 in San Bernadino County, California. Also known as Camp Soda and Soda Springs, what really makes Zzyzx strange is the person who found it.
Curtis Howe Springer was born in 1896 in Birmingham, Alabama. Proclaimed as the "King of the Quacks" in 1969 by the American Medical Association, he spent the early part of his life convincing people he was a doctor. To backup his case, he proclaimed himself to be the "last of the old-time medicine men."
He would even write his name on pamphlets for speaking engagements as Curtis Howe Springer, M.D., N.D., D.O., Ph.D.
In the simplest description, Springer was a con artist. He became quite popular with the crowd after proclaiming wildly untrue credentials, such as being a former boxing teacher in the U.S. Army.
Another one of his lies involved making up fake universities. Some of these include National Academy, The Springer School of Humanism, the American College of Doctors and Surgeons, the Westlake West Virginia College, and osteopathy schools in Meyersdale, Pennsylvania and New Jersey that don't exist.
It was in 1934 when Springer began his career in radio broadcasting. Here, he would sell his "medicines," including his Antediluvian Tea, basically a laxative packed up in a teabag. These were all get-rich-quick schemes, and in 1936, The Journal of the American Medical Association published an article detailing them in order to warn misled buyers.
Springer’s Antediluvian Tea (bottom right photo)
Furthermore, Springer would go on to found several health spas during the 1930s and 1940s. However, because he never paid his taxes, most of them were seized by the Feds.
1944 is where the story gets really interesting. After meeting and getting close with a new lady, she filed a claim for 12,800 acres of Mojave Desert in California. It's then that Springer decided to name the land Zzyzx Mineral Springs resort. The intention behind using the last letters of the alphabet was to mark it as "the last word in health."
To build his resort, Springer hired homeless men.
The interesting part of Springer's mineral spring resort was that even that was a lie. He faked the hot springs and used a boiler to heat the pools around the resort. Besides the pools, the resort featured 60 rooms, a spa, a radio studio, and a church. People considered him an authority. He was notoriously skilled at lying and people would fall for his authoritative behavior and claimed credentials.
Although he wasn't a minister or doctor, over 200 radio stations carried his program, where he would preach about his medicines. Listeners would send in donations for his "cures," which were pretty much just celery, carrot and parsley juices. But he would claim it was much more than that. He claimed it could relieve constipation, hemorrhoids, hair loss, and even cancer.
In the late 1960's the Feds finally started noticing how much money Springer was scamming people out of. He was convicted for selling junk "cures" but only served 49 days in jail for stealing money from sick people for decades.
Administrative building and chapel built by Springer at Zzyzx, California. Now the Desert Studies Center headquarters.
Springer died in 1986 in Las Vegas.
Freeway exit sign as you exit Interstate 15
Zzyzx and Soda Springs are both open to the public and offer a variety of outdoor activities, such as hiking trails, roadside attractions, toilets (always a plus), and a cute, scenic picnic area. The actual history of the area goes back all the way to prehistoric times, when nomadic tribes would gravitate to the natural spring and use the site as a quarry to create arrowheads. When you visit keep a keen eye out for rock art.
Since 1976, California State University has managed the land and has built a great Desert Studies Center on site.
With the exception of Baker, California, which is 7 miles away, the nearest city is Las Vegas, and it's about 100 miles away from the town. Today, Zzyzx is home to the Desert Studies Center and Lake Tuendae, which used to be a part of the original spa.
Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad crossing over Soda Lake.